Weekly Read Week #8

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When I started this last year, the plan was to release snippets or excerpts each week. I figured it would be a win-win, I could share the content, get feedback and bring some interest to the project. And for everyone who was interested you’d get a tid bit each week that might be helpful. What I now realize, this works better if you’re not still making edits or rewriting the content. Hence, the somewhat randomness of these posts.

For those of you who are looking forward to the final project, the editing phase is scheduled to begin no later than early March. It took a while to find the right editor and come to terms, but things are moving. By the way if any knows of a graphic designer who works with books, please pass along some recommendations.

This excerpt is from the section where we discuss how the lack of planning can impact your team’s ability to respond during a crisis or emergency situation.

Lines of Communication - During the best of times open communication is a challenge for organizations regardless of size. Now multiply that challenge across three states dealing with flooding, power outages and the genuine fear of death - it’s a small wonder that anything was able to be accomplished. I’m not sure how you go about recovering from a natural disaster without the ability to communicate in real time. Recovery teams that arrived from out of state came with their respective comms and there was little to no integration between units. There was no centralized communication plan that outlined who would direct radio traffic between parties, no designated times for communication updates and little success in disseminating updates between civilians and the local, state & federal resources.

This communication factor, or lack thereof, is the one constant throughout the recovery effort that compounded all the other issues that were developing. Evacuees were dropped ad hoc at the Convention Center because there was no clear communication to the Search & Rescue teams to deliver them somewhere else. Teams tasked with identifying the locations and types of damage to the levees were unable to provide the feedback so that the proper planning and resources could be deployed. Even communication to the White House was shaky. FEMA Director Mike Brown wasn’t fully aware of what was happening on the ground - so his updates to the President were, of course, lacking in information. Katrina as a storm, violently forced Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama back to a time before modern communication and no one was fully prepared for it.

Fortunately, 99.99% of you will never have to prepare for a communications disaster of this size - so your strategy to work around one will be infinitely easier. Let’s start with the most basic of issues - the inability to communicate with your team because the phones are down. I would venture a guess that every employee has some means of cellular communication, so in the absence of having hard line communication making sure that you have all of your employees' cellular numbers is the first step. Moving past the tools of communication being unavailable, the issue most likely to arise is your inability to communicate because you are in a meeting, away on vacation or potentially something more serious like an injury. Determine the member(s) of your team who will act in that capacity while you are absent. Go through the types of communication necessary for the team to function in your absence, the schedule in which the information needs to be delivered and of course the preferred channels. As with all of the other suggestions mentioned in this chapter, run a few test scenarios to see if everything happens the way you’d like it to. Re-calibrate where necessary and move forward knowing that the team will have the information needed even in your absence.

While these steps may seem elementary as you read them, I challenge you to take a moment and run through a scenario like this in your head. Would your team be in the dark if you weren’t able to communicate with them directly? What type of stress might this add to your team during your absence and how much of an impact would this have on their overall efforts? If the answer to the question is “no discernible effect” Great. You have nothing to worry about, if that is not the case - commit to putting together a plan and share it with the team.

It would be great to say that Katrina was an anomaly, a once in a lifetime occurrence for which any lessons learned would not be needed. We know of course that it wasn't. A few years later, New York and New Jersey would be pounded by Superstorm Sandy. Twelve years later Texas and parts of Louisiana would see Hurricane Harvey arrive. Both storms presented challenges similar to Katrina - heavy flooding, displaced residents and shuttered utilities. State and local resources would be taxed. The Federal government would be called upon again to provide assistance. Fortunately, the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina would be put to use and while there was still plenty to improve upon - both of those weather events reflected the benefits of proper planning & execution, even for once in a lifetime occurrences.

Dean McKinney